Holocaust Memorial Day
We cannot write the future. Only our children can do that.
Early on in his medical career, Janos Korczak, whose real name was Henryk Goldszmit, was drawn to the plight of underprivileged children. He wrote books about their neglect and in 1911 he founded an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw. It became so successful that he was asked to create one for Catholic children as well, which he did.
He had his own radio program which made him famous throughout Poland. He was known as the “old doctor.” But he had revolutionary views about the young. He believed in trusting them and giving them responsibility. He turned schools into self-governing communities. He wrote some of the great works of child psychology, including one called The Child’s Right to Respect. He believed that in each child there burned a moral flame that if nurtured could defeat the darkness at the core of human nature.
In 1940 he and the orphanage were driven into the Warsaw ghetto. In 1942 the order came to transport them to Treblinka. Korczak was offered the chance to escape, but he refused.
He walked with his 200 orphans through the streets of Warsaw to the train that took them to the gates of death, to Treblinka, inseparable from them to the end. His presence kept the children calm; if he left them they might have panicked.
“The very stones of the street wept at the sight of the procession.”
More than a million and a half children were killed during the Nazi terror. More than a million Jewish children were lost in those years, a whole murdered generation.
Children — dependent, vulnerable, defenseless — are the ultimate test of our humanity. Not by accident does the biblical word for compassion, רחמים, come from רחם, meaning a womb.
On our children rests the fate of humanity. Never again can one Jewish child go without adequate food and shelter, education or medical facilities.
Janos Korczak was right. We cannot write the future. Only our children can do that. But we can teach them to long for, and create, a world of respect for one another.
Prof. Rivka Lazovsky
World WIZO Executive